Distribution of potential suitable hammers and transport of hammer tools and nuts by wild capuchin monkeys

Primates. 2009 Apr;50(2):95-104. doi: 10.1007/s10329-008-0127-9. Epub 2009 Jan 28.


Selection and transport of objects to use as tools at a distant site are considered to reflect planning. Ancestral humans transported tools and tool-making materials as well as food items. Wild chimpanzees also transport selected hammer tools and nuts to anvil sites. To date, we had no other examples of selection and transport of stone tools among wild nonhuman primates. Wild bearded capuchins (Cebus libidinosus) in Boa Vista (Piauí, Brazil) routinely crack open palm nuts and other physically well-protected foods on level surfaces (anvils) using stones (hammers) as percussive tools. Here we present indirect evidence, obtained by a transect census, that stones suitable for use as hammers are rare (study 1) and behavioral evidence of hammer transport by twelve capuchins (study 2). To crack palm nuts, adults transported heavier and harder stones than to crack other less resistant food items. These findings show that wild capuchin monkeys selectively transport stones of appropriate size and hardness to use as hammers, thus exhibiting, like chimpanzees and humans, planning in tool-use activities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brazil
  • Cebus / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Nuts
  • Observation
  • Tool Use Behavior / physiology*